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More Tests Reveal Sony F3 to be an Entirely Different Camera with S-Log Upgrade

09.15.11 @ 9:49AM Tags : , , , ,

There are a number of slow motion sequences in my script for Man-child (only 8 days left… !), which makes a RED appropriate. Otherwise I would probably try to shoot it on a Sony F3 with the S-Log firmware (if the campaign is successful, that is… ). All the footage I’ve seen to date shot in S-Log has been beautiful, with very film-like highlight renditions and gorgeous colors. A common misperception with S-Log is that you need an uncompressed recorder to take advantage of it. Not true! DP Timur Civan recently ran some tests with a Ki Pro Mini:

These compositions are boring, very boring, but they are carefully chosen to reflect situations I’ve run in to the last few years, on various shots that have always bothered me and made me wish I had the “Infinite Dynamic Range” as MacGregor so eloquently put it. Well, for the most part, we have that now, at an indie price point. Yes, the Alexa is better…. by about a stop. (when you hit the 13.5+ zone 1 stop actually becomes a lot) but at 1/3 the price, this is terrifying performance… The thing when shooting sLog thats tricky; it goes against every instinct you have as a DP. You have to under expose, so far down that you think “Theres NOTHING THERE!!!!! WHAT THE #$%^ AM I DOOING!?!?!?!?” but use your exposure tools, use your false color, use your wave form. Skin tones stay at 35IRE, High lights on skin @ 40-45 IRE. Dont worry, its ALLLLL there….

Click on the video title and look in the right-hand sidebar if you want to download the .mov at Vimeo. Timur put the camera in a number of difficult situations and I think the resulting footage takes to “pushing” amazingly well. There’s a lot of leeway for grading in post.

Also, I found another F3 S-Log clip as I was watching this lovely video profile by Ed David of a tailor down the street from me here in Brooklyn. Even just a simple rooftop test looks great:

Then again, I like flat, naturalistic images. Still, I have to profess my love for the appearance of Sony F3 S-Log footage. It’s basically an entirely different camera with the paid firmware upgrade. What about you guys, anyone else like the aesthetic a lot? Heck, I may still shoot Man-child on the F3 — if I get to shoot it at all… your help is really needed!

Hit the link below for uncompressed TIFFs and more info on Timur’s testing.

Link: T.STOPS: Sony F3 – sLog Testing


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  • Hi Koo, I recommend this excellent short video by Convergent Design explaining S-Log (and how it differs from RAW and REC709). I consider this sort of ‘audiovisual explanations’ as powerful pedagogical tools that, in my opinion, haven’t been used enough in general education and teaching yet. I think they deserve to be considered a genre in filmmaking by themselves.

    Also, Doug Jensen from Vortex Media, did some nice looking shots with his F3, using a Red Pro 300mm T2.9 lens. This is not even S-Log and it looks very filmic. This camera rocks!

  • i like it but again, if you like the flat look (especially for grading) i don’t understand how a paid s-log at a maybe, what, 14 or 15 stop latitude (and that’s probably a bit generous), can be better than 18 stops with hdrx and raw. I genuinely do not understand the aversions to RED. as i’ve said so many times before, i would gladly admit that there were other viable cameras on the market if those cameras were better tools than the Epic. So far, no one is able to tell me why one is better than the other

    • I think the price is a big factor.

    • I don’t have an aversion to RED — the EPIC is an amazing camera…

      I happen to like the F3′s colors and you can shoot with it out of the box for $15k (plus lenses), so it’s definitely cheaper to get started w/. Adding S-Log and an external recorder puts it closer to RED prices tho.

      • Hardly, my setup w/ KipPRO is about $18.5K w/ log.

        A red MX body is 25k, with no accessories, closer to 35-40k when properly sorted. The F3 winds up being 1/2 the price, but with far less resolution…. but the pixels you do get are of the highest quality. The F3 is perfect for music Videos, corporate work, documentary, low budget indie features and shorts, commercials. TV episodic etc…

        Epic is built from the ground up to be for ( as the name implies) narrative feature films, big budget Commericals, etc…. it two different tools. Big hammer, small hammer…. they shouldn;t even be compared as they are for different markets.

        • Totally — I said “closer” not the same. And I meant if you were including something like a $6k Convergent Gemini. And if that EPIC-S — sorry, Scarlet — comes out anytime soon, then they are in VERY similar price ranges.

          (include disclaimer about “forward-looking statements” here).

          Thanks for the tests Timur — as you can see, I’m smitten by S-Log.

          • i do get what you’re saying, there is definite niceness happening in the s-log. It definitely makes the F3 more of a force to be reckoned with. and timur, thank you for an answer that is actually reasonable, and you too koo. though i may disagree a bit, I’m glad to at least hear two people that talk sensibly about the whole thing rather than feeling the need to pander exclusively for no specific purpose

    • 18 stops could be too much, it doesn’t look natural. The human eye perceives around 14 stops every time you fix on something (instantaneous latitude). It is great to have that possibility but in most circumstances you will not need it. It also adds complexity to the workflow. I personally haven’t seen clips from the Epic that convince me that, overall, it has a better image quality than the F3. The F3 is less noisy, has more dynamic range (not considering HDR mode), and seems to have better rendition of colors, Epic has more resolution, but most people will not perceive the difference unless they see the images projected on a large screen. So why the F3 is a good contender to the RED Epic? Well because it is very close in terms of image quality and it is cheaper. But I think that the Epic is going to be a great camera too.

    • HDRX cannot be monitored on set, as its a post effect. Also there is potential for motion artifacts as you are blending two frames with different shutter speeds together. Although the effect is good, there are circumstances it cannot be used under. like fast moving objects. For a portrait shot, or something with slow movement, its amazing. The issue being that if you use HDRX for the segments of the film that have little movement and dont use it for fast action the disparity of continuity of image characteristics will be too great.

      IE dropping from 13-18stops down to 12 will look weird ad be difficult to cut around.

  • There is this interesting post by Alister Chapman on “Exposing when shooting S-Log”:

    He goes to mention some interesting things, like “there is a +6db increase in NOISE due to the +1 stop increase in sensitivity associated with S-Log.” In other words, the S-Log image becomes twice as noisy as the cinegamma material. So using S-Log is not always going to give you the best results: “it is quite possible that you would actually be able to push mid ranges and shadows further with Cinegammas than S-log in an underexposed situation due to noise issues.”

    He concludes that if he can fit the contrast range of the scene into the 11.5 stops of a cinegamma then he will often use the cinegammas over S-Log because of the noise improvement. “S-Log comes into it’s own where you have an extreme contrast range that needs to be captured.”

    Finally, on the use of S-Log with 422 instead of uncompressed, he points out that “one thing to consider is that with S-Log you no longer have the ability to change the white balance in-camera. It is locked into preset mode at either 3200 or 5600.” This means that you will really benefit from recording at 4:4:4 over 4:2:2, as you will need to fine tune the color balance in post.

  • There is an image quality issue that seldom gets mentioned. If you only release as 1080p shooting at a higher resolution may be a disadvantage. Any time you downsize (or upsize) an image it is a lossy interpolation. So going from 4K sensor to 1080p will not look quite as good as shooting to size with a sensor that is sized for 1080p. The RED has an advantage if projected in a theater at greater than 1080p resolution or if great image manipulation is involved, but the Sony F3 will look very slightly nicer at 1080p if that is all you need because no lossy interpolation process is done.

    • I’m not sure about that: first, because I’m not convinced that you lose anything with a clearcut 2 to 1 interpolation (though just 2.1 to 1 could be a completely different story); and then, because all these images are interpolated from a bayer pattern

    • Sorry, had to respond to this. Utter nonsense. The Red One shooting at 4k is an absolute advantage – when downressing from 4k to 1080p the result is one of the sharpest and clean images you will see period. 1080p cannot compare – even when shooting on an Alexa. I am currently editing my most recent short which was shot on the Red One (without MX chip). The advantage that 4k brings to post cannot be understated, this is why all the other big players are following suit. Prior to shooting our short we considered using DSLRs. While they are incredibly portable and offer bang for your buck they simply offer nowhere near the kind of image quality a Red brings (that probably needs to be said twice – nowhere near) and the rolling shutter is a real handicap. With Red’s latest colour science and providing you know what you’re doing, you can achieve stunning images that have virtually no noise and are razor sharp (softened and grain added in post if necessay).
      To say also that the Epic does not compare image wise to the F3 is crazy talk, especially given there are so many factors that go into making an image, lighting, lenses, etc. Like for like there is no comparison.
      I think the only major drawback to the Red One is it’s weight, it is very heavy – so if you’re shooting handheld it’s gonna be tough (do not underestimate this fact). That’s the only concern I would have if I were in Koo’s shoes, but then if you can lay your hands on an Epic then that’s not an issue.
      As ever though, it’s Koo’s creativity that will matter most in the end, not the camera he used.

      Just had to comment on some of the misinformation floating around here.
      Good luck with your film Koo!!

  • Koo,

    you have created lots of buzz on the net regarding your project and so on, and I can see that you want to shoot with F3 or Red, look if you have such a great concept/script why not to use 5d, take two or three bodies and you are done, I’m pretty sure that if you have such a great idea and story you will get a very good image with 5d nobody will even see the difference, as long as you know how to use latest software you will be safe.

  • There is a noticeable amount of noise when the 709(pushed) is compared to the s-log footage. The 709 footage looks great, but the s-log footage looks GREAT! And yes, the re RED footage arguably looks better with it being a 4k camera but you definitely have to pay for that quality(58k for epic-m no lens to start). The F3 is much cheaper for an AMAZING quality image. No not as high as an Epic but still a beautiful image. I would definitely love to shoot with an F3 & let my story fill in the perceived gaps in image quality.

  • As always, each camera has pros and cons. Choice should depend on the project needs and budget considerations. Sometimes it might be better to use a cheaper camera and have more tools (lenses, dolly, crane, etc.) I believe that overall project quality dictates a balanced approach. I’ve used film, the RED ONE, RED MX, Alexa, and the Sony F3 (with and without S-log) on a variety of projects ranging from features (21), commercials, and corporate. I haven’t had the opportunity to shoot with the Epic yet. They are all excellent cameras if they are used with strengths and weaknesses in mind. REDs obviously excel when 4K resolution is essential – image cropping or 4K theatrical. If making a low budget feature, one has to honestly ask how many 4K theaters one will be showing in. Any kind of theatrical release (outside of festivals or 4 wall self distribution) is already a real long shot. Koo has a challenging decision to make. RED also has the advantage in slow motion frame rates at 2K rez. Most (including myself) consider Alexa the overall best camera at 1080p rez. But it’s expensive to rent or buy. But if budget allows, go for it! I have recently chosen the F3 for more projects that need a 1080p delivery. The reason is budget and value. With the S-log, one can get 13.5 stops of dynamic range. The Alexa was recently tested (Zacuto shootout) at 14.1 stops. That extra .6 stops comes at a high price! Don’t get me wrong, the Alexa is like a Ferrari, styling and features wise. Best viewfinder quality ever, excellent ergonomics, and menu structure. Value wise, the F3 has an incredible sensor. It is super clean and amazing in low light. It can be pushed to +12db (3200 ISO) with no appreciable noise when viewed on a large monitor. I believe that it is faster and cleaner than the RED ONE or the MX and has about 1.5 stops more dynamic range (with S-log). The color rendition is also excellent when using a 4:2:2 external recorder. Would love to see a 4:4:4 recording. The post workflow for the F3 and the Alexa are much easier and less time consuming. The extra transcoding and CC conforming with the RED may be worth it for a feature. But with the tight schedules in the commercial/corporate world, editors hate the RED workflow. Downsides to the F3: Need to record 4:4:4 dual link to get only 60p slow mo. Crappy viewfinder. LCD screen OK. Limited exposure tools built in (crappy histogram). Best to use an external monitor for viewing and waveform or false color control. Unfortunately, when using S-log in 4:2:0 (cards) or 4:2:2, one can’t monitor using a LUT. Need to record 4:4:4 with dual link recorder. I should also point out that it’s not always necessary or wise to use the S-log gamma. It does take more time to color grade. But when needed it can be a life saver. I recently shot a “worst scenario” test comparing S-log to other F3 cinema gammas as well as the Canon 5D Technicolor Cine profile. I can post later if there is interest. In general, I would recommend never shooting in standard Rec 709. Lousy dynamic range. The Cinema Gammas are much better. More details if there is interest.

  • At the price the F3 is, this firmware update should be inclusive in the price.
    So I bought the FS100 that makes me half satisfied. Sony is just out to make money while Canon and Red finish off their beasts.